Even in the Bay Area, it is not a fact well known but legendary playwright Eugene O'Neill resided in Danville, CA from 1937-1944. O'Neill, America's only Nobel Prize winning playwright, was intrigued by Eastern philosophy while his wife, Carlotta Monterey, was attracted to Oriental art and designs. Hence, the Bay Area, being full of East Asian culture, including San Francisco's Japantown and Chinatown districts, was certainly of great interests to the O'Neills.
The O'Neills resided in their home, which they called Tao House, in Danville at a 158-acre ranch in the San Ramon Valley. Danville concludes it's 12th annual Eugene O'Neill Festival this weekend with O'Neill's drama, Mourning Becomes Electra, which is an adaptation of the Greek tragic trilogy Oresteia by Aeschylus about Agamemnon, his second wife Clytemnestra, and their children Electra & Orestes.
O'Neill's modernized piece is set in the post American Civil War New England. It actually consists of three plays that is rarely performed individually, and they are in this order: Homecoming, The Hunted, and The Haunted. Danville's Role Players Ensemble has produced this year's version and is an adequate presentation at just under 3 1/2 hours with two intermissions. A challenge successfully met by Eric Fraisher-Hayes with what could easily have been a five or even six hour performance.
This production stars Eden Neuendorf as Lavinia Mannon (representation of Aeschylus' Electra); William J. Brown III as Orin Mannon (aka Orestes); Sylvia Burboeck as Christine Mannon (aka Clytemnestra); and Michael Fay as General Ezra Mannon (aka Agamemnon). In wonderful supporting roles are: Craig Eychner as Captain Adam Brant; Joe Fitzgerald as the comical Seth Beckwith; Mahal Montoya as Hazel Niles; and Len Shaffer as Lavinia's suitor Peter Niles.
Rounding out the ensemble were Charles Woodson Parker, Megan Miller, and Mia Fryvecind. These three sung beautifully during several scene transitions and were some of the highlights of the production.
Burboeck is her usually confident and remarkable self displaying a rainbow of emotions throughout the play. Fay is up to par with his portrayal as Gen. Mannon as well as being a myriad of townsfolk in other scenes. And Brown as Orin was up to the task though he seemed too happy on occasions for the role when there were somber moments.
Neundorf was a slight disappointment in that she did not display the emotional range for the role. There didn't seem to be an arc in her portrayal of Lavinia; her performance on this evening seemed flat. Though based on her credentials, she seems to be a good thespian being a UNI Panther graduate, but there just wasn't enough variety in her emotions fitting for Lavinia.
The technical aspects of the show are just short of superb. The actors' Trans-Atlantic accents, including that of Neuendorf, are quite acceptable under the guidance of dialect coach Robin Taylor. The costume designs by Lisa Danz are wonderfully elaborate & appropriate yet again. Ryan Terry & Bo Golden's set design are again astounding with the spinning house and elaborate doors which included the central portal that perfectly set up the final tableau for the play. And Chris Guptill's lighting design had warm transitions and was nicely focused and aligned with a few exceptions; the downstage lighting seemed too dark unless the actors had trouble this evening finding their lights.
Mourning Becomes Electra finishes its run Sat. @ 7:30 pm, Oct. 1, 2011 @ the Village Theatre, 233 Front Street, Danville, CA 94526. For tickets & information, call (925) 820-1278 or click on the links below:
Directions & Parking: http://danvilletheatre.com/driving.html
Discount tickets available: http://www.goldstar.com/events/danville-ca/mourning-becomes-electra